Two Nordic Composers and one fine violinist

In a delightful and recent recording for the BIS label, two violin concertos are brilliantly performed by the 21 year old Swedish-Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, with John Storgårds helming the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

Both Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius were born in 1865. Both were trained as violinists. Both their violin concertos were composed within six years of each other: Sibelius’ in 1905 and Nielsen’s in 1911.

Jan Sibelius composed his three-movement Violin Concerto in D minor, opus 47 as a vehicle in which he gave the orchestra as much attention as he gave to the violin part. Sibelius’ music, grand at its best, grandiose at its worst, is never ever dull. He looked for and found inspiration in the Finnish Kalevala and other sagas, finding tales to which he gave potent music, among them En Saga, the Karelia Suite, Finlandia, and the Lemminkäinen Suite (also named Four Legends from the Kalevala.)  

Well into his late age, the Finnish composer kept his back turned to 20th century musical trends, all the while remaining steadfast in his dislike of atonality. Sibelius was not a populist, although he was deeply interested in the folk and national music and literature of his country, an attitude that allowed him to inject into his works sweeping melodies that gave his compositions a good degree of popularity, as is the case with his violin concerto.

Carl Nielsen composed his unusually-structured two-movement Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 33 with each of its two sections given a slow, then fast tempo. The Danish composer was a pragmatist who used a variety of means to create works that included now and then a flirtation with atonality. His music inspired patriotic feelings among his compatriots, earning him well deserved honors during his lifetime, even though he unfairly never achieved the international acclaim accorded Sibelius.

Nielsen’s violin concerto is elegantly neo-classical, melodic, inventive, playful and jittery at times, lyrical at others, but lamentably has never entered the go-to concert repertoire for the instrument. Perhaps the enterprise of rising young artists like Johan Dalene will bring about a positive change.

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE ARTS